Almost three months ago, Administrator Huerta announced that he would add two positions to his organization so as to improve the relations with the UAS industry:
- one would be assigned to Peggy Gilligan’s Aviation Safety team and that individual’s mission would be to improve the development of UAS standards, i.e. “the Regulator” and
- the other would report directly to the Deputy Administrator, and there the individual would strive to improve communications with the UAS industry by better explaining the FAA’s policies on their industry and to listen better to this segment’s ideas, thus “the Oracle.”
On September 2nd the results of the search for these two executives were announced:
- Earl Lawrence — Director of the UAS Integration Office within the FAA’s Aviation Safety organization; i.e. the Regulator and
- Marke “Hoot” Gibson — the Senior Advisor on UAS Integration working for Mark Whittaker; he’ll be the Oracle.
Both were selected based on their impressive resumes.
Mr. Lawrence, after graduating from college, started first as a rocket engine mechanic and then as a manufacturing engineer for Rockwell Rocketdyne division in Canoga Park, California. Those jobs were practical courses in engineering, administration, production, quality assurance and management.
He then in 2000, moved to Oshkosh, WI as the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Vice President of industry and regulatory affairs. There Mr. Lawrence managed the association’s government affairs. On a daily basis he reviewed NPRMs, ADs, ACs, SAFOs and the like to translate those actions into positions for/against those proposals on behalf of EAA’s 170,000 recreational aviators.
In 2010 Lawrence became a Regulator by becoming the FAA’s Manager of the FAA’s Small Airplane Directorate. From that position he was responsible for the establishment of type certification policies and regulations for small airplanes, airships and balloons. His leadership was expected to ensure standardized application of the policies and regulations through aircraft certification and manufacturing district offices.
Lawrence’s industry work includes ASTM International Board of Directors and the chairman of the ASTM International Committee on Light Sport Aircraft. In recognition of his standards work, Lawrence received the 2003 Robert J. Painter Memorial Award from the Standards Engineering Society. He is also an associate staff member of the U.S. Transportation Safety Institute, where he leads training sessions on experimental aircraft accident investigation and amateur-built/light sport aircraft designated airworthiness representative.
That’s an abundance of experience which should improve the UAS regulations. His chairing of the LSA committee demonstrates his ability to develop new, creative approaches to an emerging technology.
Maj. Gen. Marke “Hoot” Gibson, USAF (Ret.) is a graduate of the US Air Force Academy and racked up an impressive career there (Director of Current Operations and Training, USAF Headquarters; the Deputy Commander of the 7th Air Force Korea (Osan, South Korea); Commander of the 354th Fighter Wing, Eielson AFB, Alaska; Wing Commander of the 332nd Expeditionary Wing, Balad, Iraq; the Deputy Director of Operations of NORTHCOM. A breadth of assignments and a high level of command produce the judgment needed for his civilian work.
After leaving the nation’s service, Mr. Gibson created his own consultancy business. There he advised a number of Fortune 500 companies on a wide range of aerospace and defense issues, including most relevantly UAV integration into the national airspace, cyber security and GPS landing systems.
In 2014 Gibson moved towards the FAA becoming the Executive Director of the NextGen Institute, a public-private partnership to help the FAA in its massive technology challenge. His mission there was to promote collaboration between government and industry. That job was further evidence of his ability to bring a diverse group of stakeholders together — government, industry and local constituencies — to achieve important outcomes for aerospace and national security.
Mr. Gibson should provide energy and diplomatic skills to creating stronger bonds between the FAA and the entrepreneurial drone industry which seemingly fails to comprehend or perhaps to minimize the agency’s safety mandate.
One of the challenges for these two new players in the FAA UAS policy formulation game will be communicating between themselves. Lawrence has direct daily responsibilities to create standards and processes; while Gibson’s focus is external — listening to the industry and telling them where the FAA is moving on UASs. Those job descriptions may create tension — internal and external focuses — trying to improve the FAA rules by Mr. Lawrence and trying to inform the UAV community about how the policies are evolving by Gen. Gibson. In turn Hoot will bring back to his boss, the Deputy Administrator, the usually blistering criticisms of the industry about the FAA’s slowness, poor grasp of the UAS’s economic potential, the better treatment being afforded by other CAAs and the like. To exacerbate that potential tension, each position reports to a different senior FAA executive (arguably the #2 and #3 jobs).
Great selections and great challenges!
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